Author Topic: do you believe in progress?  (Read 166 times)

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Offline frank callaway

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do you believe in progress?
« on: September 17, 2014, 11:14:15 AM »
From the 1968 Will Durant book - The Lessons of History:

"Against the panorama of nations, morals, and religions rising and falling, the idea of progress finds itself in dubious shape. Is it only the vain and traditional boast of each “modern” generation? Since we have admitted no substantial change in man’s nature during historic times, all technological advances will have to be written off as merely new means of achieving old ends—the acquisition of goods, the pursuit of one sex by the other (or by the same), the overcoming of competition, the fighting of wars. One of the discouraging discoveries of our disillusioning century is that science is neutral: it will kill for us as readily as it will heal, and will destroy for us more readily than it can build. How inadequate now seems the proud motto of Francis Bacon, “Knowledge is power”! Sometimes we feel that the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, which stressed mythology and art rather than science and power, may have been wiser than we, who repeatedly enlarge our instrumentalities without improving our purposes."

for me, seeking to understand how the world works in an effort to build the "better, faster, cheaper" (more productive) machine is based on my belief that it's a good thing to do. but it's still a leap of faith to believe my efforts will make the world a better place...

When a great genius appears in the world you may know him by this sign; that the dunces are all in confederacy against him.

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Offline Azdgari

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Re: do you believe in progress?
« Reply #1 on: September 17, 2014, 11:16:28 AM »
Since you've used the words, what did you mean specifically when you said "a better place"?
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Offline frank callaway

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Re: do you believe in progress?
« Reply #2 on: September 17, 2014, 11:27:07 AM »
Since you've used the words, what did you mean specifically when you said "a better place"?

to improve upon, enhance or otherwise result in a positive impact.
When a great genius appears in the world you may know him by this sign; that the dunces are all in confederacy against him.

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Offline Mrjason

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Re: do you believe in progress?
« Reply #3 on: September 17, 2014, 11:29:09 AM »
to improve upon, enhance or otherwise result in a positive impact.

For who?

Online jaimehlers

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Re: do you believe in progress?
« Reply #4 on: September 17, 2014, 11:54:15 AM »
The problem, such as it is, is not because knowledge is somehow not powerful.  It is because each human starts as a blank slate as far as knowledge is concerned, and has no way to tell if the knowledge they get from others is 'good' or not.  Many people seek to fool or deceive others by giving them false or even skewed knowledge which leaves the giver in a position of power.

That is what happened in earlier eras; people had very little access to knowledge, and what they did have was designed to leave someone else in a position of power over them.

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Re: do you believe in progress?
« Reply #5 on: September 17, 2014, 11:55:08 AM »
Interesting question. Historically, certain broad trends have improved: a greater proportion of the overall population are better-educated, better-fed and living far longer than in the past. Mankind's understanding of natural processes has increased by leaps and bounds, quite often improving the human condition overall.

This is of course not without cost. Our current civilization is not sustainable indefinitely; there is a resource / overpopulation bottleneck in our future, and other disasters (or combinations of disasters) could destroy enough of our critical infrastructure to put us back into the iron age, or worse.

But in general I'm more optimistic than Mr. Durant. I think that our "purposes" have indeed improved, or at least have a better chance of being improved, than in the past. That such things as women's rights, the precise impact of industrialization on the ecosphere and similar topics are even up for debate is hopeful.

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Offline frank callaway

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Re: do you believe in progress?
« Reply #6 on: September 17, 2014, 11:59:38 AM »
to improve upon, enhance or otherwise result in a positive impact.

For who?

the earth and its inhabitants...
When a great genius appears in the world you may know him by this sign; that the dunces are all in confederacy against him.

-Jonathan Swift

Offline screwtape

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Re: do you believe in progress?
« Reply #7 on: September 17, 2014, 12:07:29 PM »
to improve upon, enhance or otherwise result in a positive impact.

For who?

the earth and its inhabitants...

I think you've missed what he means.  "a better place" is not an absolute.  It is a relative judgment.  It requires a context and a subject.  So it has to be defined more explicitly.  The next question to your reply might be, what does a more productive machine do for the earth and its inhabitants? 

I would say it does nothing for the earth.  The earth is a chunk of matter, mostly iron and oxygen, flying around a star.  And as for the inhabitants, why is a more productive machine an enhancement?  For which inhabitants?  Is it detrimental to any of them?  Is it also in some ways detrimental to the ones for which it is beneficial?

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Offline Astreja

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Re: do you believe in progress?
« Reply #8 on: September 17, 2014, 12:38:18 PM »
As I see it, the Agricultural Revolution, the Renaissance and the Industrial Revolution were double-edged swords.  In one sense they led to a more egalitarian world with better distribution of goods, services and knowledge, but increased the number and variety of anxieties to which people are prone.  They didn't foment war, as such -- War has been with humanity for a very long time -- but improvements in weapons technology has made it possible to destroy everything.

I don't think going back to a pre-industrial or pre-agricultural system is the answer to our problems, because eventually we'll find ourselves reinventing anything we toss aside and end up back here, asking the same damn questions we failed to answer this time around.

IMO, what we need next is a moral revolution wherein we ponder and take ownership of our behaviours and strive to do more good and less harm on an individual, national and global level.  Going along with external moral agents such as religion or popular opinion is simply not working.
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Offline Dante

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Re: do you believe in progress?
« Reply #9 on: September 17, 2014, 12:49:11 PM »
for me, seeking to understand how the world works in an effort to build the "better, faster, cheaper" (more productive) machine is based on my belief that it's a good thing to do. but it's still a leap of faith to believe my efforts will make the world a better place...

I could see better, faster, cheaper making the world a better place IRT healthcare, energy, and the distribution of knowledge. Unfortunately, this doesn't seem to be the case in the current sociopolitical environment, where the rich 1%ers control all the above.

Yeah, we're living longer and healthier, while Big Pharma is making huge profits, mostly of gov't subsidies.

Yeah, we've got some renewable energy solutions, but Big Oil is making huge profits off gov't subsidies.

Yeah, we've got unlimited knowledge with the internet, while advertisers of all shapes and sizes make huge profits telling us what we want to hear, or telling us we have to buy this or that keep up with the Joneses.

So yeah, there's progress, but there's potential for so much more.
Actually it doesn't. One could conceivably be all-powerful but not exceptionally intelligent.

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Re: do you believe in progress?
« Reply #10 on: September 17, 2014, 12:52:58 PM »
Paraphrasing an Einstein quote I've seen many times - We will not solve the problems we face by employing the same thinking that created them in the first place.

What people in the US, for instance, would call "progress" may not be the same thing that people in places lacking potable water would call progress.
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Offline frank callaway

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Re: do you believe in progress?
« Reply #11 on: September 17, 2014, 01:06:29 PM »
to improve upon, enhance or otherwise result in a positive impact.

For who?

the earth and its inhabitants...

I think you've missed what he means.  "a better place" is not an absolute.  It is a relative judgment.  It requires a context and a subject.  So it has to be defined more explicitly.  The next question to your reply might be, what does a more productive machine do for the earth and its inhabitants? 

I would say it does nothing for the earth.  The earth is a chunk of matter, mostly iron and oxygen, flying around a star.  And as for the inhabitants, why is a more productive machine an enhancement?  For which inhabitants?  Is it detrimental to any of them?  Is it also in some ways detrimental to the ones for which it is beneficial?

i concur... that's why i stated in the OP that it's a bit of a "leap of faith" to believe my efforts will contribute to making the world a "better place" - defined as improving upon, enhancing or otherwise having a positive impact.

but building a "better machine" could very well have a positive impact on the earth's environment; it already has - automobiles are becoming more fuel efficient causing fewer carbon emissions along with the arrival of solar power, which is cleaner and "better" for the environment etc, etc...  the purveyors of anthropic GW would no doubt say that what's best for the environment is ultimately what's best for its inhabitants.

« Last Edit: September 17, 2014, 01:30:56 PM by frank callaway »
When a great genius appears in the world you may know him by this sign; that the dunces are all in confederacy against him.

-Jonathan Swift

Offline Dante

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Re: do you believe in progress?
« Reply #12 on: September 17, 2014, 01:38:05 PM »
but building a "better machine" could very well have a positive impact on the earth's environment; it already has - automobiles are becoming more fuel efficient causing fewer carbon emissions along with the arrival of solar power, which is cleaner and "better" for the environment etc, etc...  the purveyors of anthropic GW would no doubt say that what's best for the environment is ultimately what's best for its inhabitants.

Are there really people so shortsighted who would disagree with my bolded part of your statement? Wait, don't answer that.....I don't want to know.
Actually it doesn't. One could conceivably be all-powerful but not exceptionally intelligent.

Offline screwtape

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Re: do you believe in progress?
« Reply #13 on: September 17, 2014, 03:46:25 PM »
i concur... that's why i stated in the OP that it's a bit of a "leap of faith" to believe my efforts will contribute to making the world a "better place" - defined as improving upon, enhancing or otherwise having a positive impact.

I did not explain it well, because you still misunderstand.  The idea of "better" is meaningless without context and perspective.  There is a zen koan:

Quote
A  farmer’s horse ran away. His neighbors gathered upon hearing the news and said sympathetically, “That’s such bad luck.”
     “Maybe,” the farmer replied.
     The horse returned on his own the next morning, and brought seven wild horses with it. “Look how many more horses you have now,” the neighbors exclaimed. “How lucky!”
     “Maybe,” the farmer replied.
     The next day, the farmer’s son attempted to ride one of the wild horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. “How awful,” the neighbors said. “It looks like your luck has turned for the worse again.”
     The farmer simply replied, “Maybe.”
     The following day, military officers came to town to conscript young men into the service. Seeing the son’s broken leg, they rejected him. The neighbors gathered round the farmer to tell him how fortunate he was.
     “Maybe,” said the farmer.
http://www.thedailyzen.org/2011/12/zen-koan-maybe.html

So, a thing can be both better and worse, depending on perspective. 

Right now you are only saying "better" without qualifying in what sense or better for what.  A "better" machine might be one that allows the "downsizing" of hundreds of workers.  Good for the shareholders, bad for the workers' families. 

but building a "better machine" could very well have a positive impact on the earth's environment;

Same problem.  You've not defined what you mean by positive.  Do you mean on a reduction of man made pollution?  Do you mean it will improve the environment for mosquitoes?  For people?  A positive impact for humans is not necessarily a positive impact for, say, bacteria.  Or a particular species of fungus.  Or alligators.  Or whatever. And vice versa.

the purveyors of anthropic GW would no doubt say that what's best for the environment is ultimately what's best for its inhabitants.

I don't know what anthropic GW means. Global warming?  If so, then that is debatable, but you are at least on the right track defining the terms now.

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Offline frank callaway

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Re: do you believe in progress?
« Reply #14 on: September 17, 2014, 05:00:23 PM »
I did not explain it well, because you still misunderstand.  The idea of "better" is meaningless without context and perspective.

every claim of "better" can be argued via opposing perspective.  most people would agree that it's "better" to rescue a child from a house fire over a pet hamster.  but of course, that wouldn't be better for the hamster.

but building a "better machine" could very well have a positive impact on the earth's environment;

Same problem.  You've not defined what you mean by positive.  Do you mean on a reduction of man made pollution?

that's exactly what i mean... as evidenced by what i wrote directly after that statement:

it already has - automobiles are becoming more fuel efficient causing fewer carbon emissions

now i understand that fewer carbon emission may not be a positive thing for some plants and trees... but i think if you go back to my initial statement, where i said the following:

but it's still a leap of faith to believe my efforts will make the world a better place...

you would see that we're really on the same page... it is a leap of faith to believe whatever it is you're doing in life will make the world a "better" place - precisely for the reason you have pointed out here...  because anything that can be deemed better can also be deemed worse at the same time...
When a great genius appears in the world you may know him by this sign; that the dunces are all in confederacy against him.

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Re: do you believe in progress?
« Reply #15 on: September 17, 2014, 05:21:26 PM »
^^^True. And something that really is better now, may not be better once we have more information. Think about the drugs doctors gave pregnant women to prevent miscarriages (a good thing) that caused birth defects in the babies (a bad thing), for example.

But overall, I think that many of the problems we face in modern societies, like how to care for large elderly populations, or over consumption of resources, are, while serious, much better than the problems all societies faced in the past.

Like how to keep the witches from killing every single person in town with plague, how to keep witches from killing all the babies, how not to have a baby every year from age 12 until you die in childbirth, how to survive the annual famine periods between planting and harvest and during the winter, how to have enough slaves to work the farm so everyone can eat, how not become a slave, how not to be murdered by your slaves....

Progress is real. Human survival to the tune of 7+ billion people, most of whom will not die of starvation, has been a fantastic success. Now we just have to make sure we don't screw it up.
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Offline shnozzola

Re: do you believe in progress?
« Reply #16 on: September 17, 2014, 05:42:53 PM »
Progress - the process of improving or developing something over a period of time

Origin of PROGRESS
Middle English, from Anglo-French progrés, from Latin progressus advance, from progredi to go forth, from pro- forward + gradi to go — more at PRO-, GRADE
First Known Use: 15th century   

It seems, in the very long run, the only thing we've got going for us is whatever continues the human species.  I believe everything we do will always be argued from that base.   If the elephants begin trampling the rice fields of the world, we've got to do something.  If a tidal wave ruins the best laid energy plan Japan has, we've got to do something.  If we allow lightning to burn forests to "help' natural processes, and L.A. begins to burn, we've got to do something. The problem is individually we are never sure what that is.  That leaves some room for the new " wisdom of the crowds " idea. 

   What does "knowledge is power" mean?  Does it mean science is the answer to everything? It certainly could be argued that "power" is not.  Can science assist morality?  To look at something like abnormal psychology's modeling, our studies continue to learn what makes human's tick, and this "science" can end up helping to solve a whole set of problems in this one area.   There are whole studies in social science on parenting, with branching into the importance of painting, singing - the arts.

I believe I can think of things I have done that have made the world a better place, and a worse place.
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Offline frank callaway

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Re: do you believe in progress?
« Reply #17 on: September 19, 2014, 12:55:35 PM »
The idea of "better" is meaningless without context and perspective.  So, a thing can be both better and worse, depending on perspective.

what do you think about marshall brains deciding to be better site?  i read the "meaning of life" page and was a bit let down.  his story on generosity implies by doing so (being generous), your life will have meaning... which of course it will not.  one could just as easily say keeping that $100 for yourself would be more meaningful to you; depending on who you are.

and then he says... "Would our lives be better, would they have more meaning, if we knew we were working together toward common goals as a species?"... to which i would say exactly what you inferred, which is - better for who or what and why...?  when marshall explains "heaven on earth", would that be better for the plants and animals, or as you say, the bacteria and fungi...?
« Last Edit: September 19, 2014, 02:48:03 PM by screwtape »
When a great genius appears in the world you may know him by this sign; that the dunces are all in confederacy against him.

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Re: do you believe in progress?
« Reply #18 on: September 19, 2014, 05:41:19 PM »
I think that reflecting on these ideas is important, because if we don't consider how our actions affect other people, plants, animals, bacteria, whatever, there is zero possibility of making anything better. No matter how you define "better".

But I doubt there are many people who would seriously propose that we should all strive to make the planet better for bacteria. In that sense, it is up to us humans to define what better is in human terms. For good or ill, we humans are the species with the power to help other species survive, or wipe them all out. And if we wipe out too many of them, we wipe out ourselves. So, there is that pesky self-interest/survival impulse to figuring out how to make things better.

The more we learn about the planet,  the more we realize that life on the earth is interconnected, so even making things better for most humans is complicated. Bottom line: Every generation should be trying to make sure that they are not the last generation of human beings! At least, for as long as we can manage it. Everything is temporary, after all.
Extraordinary claims of the bible don't even have ordinary evidence.

Kids aren't paying attention most of the time in science classes so it seems silly to get worked up over ID being taught in schools.